Air Force Graduates First Batch of Cyberwarriors

By Grace V. Jean
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Thousands of Air Force communications personnel are now transitioning into the newly designated cyber career field. For the 3,000 officers that have switched over, the Air Force Institute of Technology is updating two graduate-level course curriculums to advance the Defense Department’s cyberwarrior corps.

“We’re about producing that work force as well as technology solutions,” said Richard Raines, director of the Center for Cyberspace Research at AFIT’s Graduate School of Engineering and Management.

The center is in charge of educating mid-career Air Force cyberwarriors and also conducts research in technologies and techniques that will improve the nation’s network security.
AFIT in late October graduated its first class of students from its new Cyber 200- and Cyber 300-level courses.  

“This is a real milestone for us,” said Brig. Gen. Walter “Waldo” Givhan, commandant of the Air Force Institute of Technology. The Air Force previously did not have advanced cyber courses for officers.

More than 600 students will graduate from the courses annually, said Maj. Melinda Moreau, who is part of the professional continuing education instructor cadre. “The ultimate goal is to shape abstract thinking in our future cyberspace professionals,” she said.

The curriculum involves a mixture of lectures, discussions, guest speakers and hands-on laboratories. With its tactical and operational focus, the Cyber-200 course is geared toward captains with at least two years of cyberspace experience. The Cyber-300 course, intended for majors and lieutenant colonels who have six years of experience in the cyberworld, focuses on the strategic level of operations.

“The course is a unique blend of policy, doctrine, technology and legislation,” said Col. Harold Arata, deputy director of AFIT’s Center for Cyberspace Research.

When students arrive for the courses, they are issued laptops preloaded with the tools they will use in the classroom. In addition, they are given iPads loaded up with textbooks, guides, information sheets and back-up instructor videos.

“Part of my job is to debunk the notion that this is complex and that you need a 40-pound brain to do anything,” said Capt. Jack Skoda, an instructor for Cyber-200 who hails from the Vermont Air National Guard’s 229th Information Operations Wing.

Students participate in lectures and classroom discussions in the mornings and then move onto the lab portion of the courses in the afternoon.

“In about 90 minutes, we have you writing code. We have you exploiting websites. We show you the different capabilities that are out there and that it doesn’t take a 40-pound brain to bring these capabilities to the Air Force,” said Skoda.

Maj. Paul Williams, who graduated from the Cyber-300 course, said that it’s important for airmen to have the exposure. “The folks that are graduating from here not only are going to have a big picture understanding of policy, doctrine, technology and law, but also what we’re faced with from a war fighting perspective, and how we can perform all of our jobs in the future,” he said. As director of operations for the 561st Network Operations Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base, Williams brought to the course his experience of overseeing 600 people in the service’s integrated network operations security center-west.  

“We’re able to capitalize on that collective cyberintellect that comes from each of our individual experiences,” said Lt. Col. Diana Bishop, who contributed her tactical communications background and her experience in network operations and radio communications to the Cyber-300 class. Now at Air Force Space Command’s Office of the Reserve Advisor to the Commander, Bishop lauded the curriculum for its breadth and depth.

“All of those topics enable us to leave this institution with the ability to contribute to cyberoperations from a more broad perspective,” she said.

For their culminating graduation event, the Cyber-200 students had eight hours to plan, execute and then brief a Defense Department cybermission. It was set up as a “capture-the-flag” penetration test, said Skoda. Students were given a range of IP addresses to target, and they had to infiltrate the machines to attain files. They captured “flags” or bits of information that helped them to piece together an intelligence briefing to deliver to the Cyber-300 students the next morning.

The Cyber-300 students in turn gathered to talk about the information, which involved details of a plan to attack a coalition partner nation. They had to determine whether enough data was collected through the network exploitation exercise to merit taking kinetic action.

Upon completion of the curriculum, graduates of the Cyber-200 course receive their senior cyber professional rating while those completing the Cyber-300 course receive the master cyber professional rating. “Cyber in the past has suffered from being everything and nothing at the same time,” said Arata. “The Air Force has done a good job of putting it into a construct that’s organized, enabling it to sustain itself in the nation for the long haul.”

Because the cyberarena is constantly evolving, the shelf life for the training program is only several months, officials said.

“We are retooling this class after every single class,” said Arata. “That’s how you stay relevant.”

The Cyber-200 course will be offered 12 times annually. Cyber-300 will be taught seven times a year.

“I think we have a wonderful product that is going to help shape our nation for years to come,” Raines said.  

Topics: Cybersecurity, Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training, ComputerBased Training

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